5 June 2014

Ghana: Africa's Best Hope in Tough World Cup Pool

Photo: Allan James Lipp/Backpagepix
Ghana's Sulley Muntari, left, and Kwadwo Asamoah at the 2010 World Cup. Both are back in the squad, with Muntari the Black Stars' potential match-winner.

In the fourth of AllAfrica's profiles of the African contenders at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Nick Said assesses the Black Stars of Ghana. Read his profiles of Cote d'Ivoire, Algeria, and Cameroon . Follow Africa's fortunes on our World Cup page and on our dedicated Twitter feed @AllAfricaSport

OVERVIEW

The anger and frustration of being denied a semi-final spot at the last World Cup will be central to Ghana's quest at the 2014 finals in Brazil.

Luis Suarez's handball on the line kept out Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound shot that, had it gone in, would have won for Ghana their quarter-final tie against Uruguay in Johannesburg at the 2010 finals.

Asamoah Gyan grazed the top of the crossbar as he missed the resultant penalty and Ghana went on to lose in the post-match shootout to miss out on becoming the first African side to reach the last four at a World Cup tournament.

It created a deep wound that initially hindered the side's progress, but now scarred over it serves as motivating spur for the west Africans, notably in their successful quest to qualify again, and will be one of the factors that see Ghana regarded as the strongest of the five African qualifiers for Brazil.

An experienced line-up with plenty of midfield and attacking talent ensured an impressive road to the finals, including a 6-1 demolition of Egypt in the first leg of the playoff that gave stark notice of Ghana's potential.

Ghana play with an attacking prowess fuelled by the return of Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng, both of whom have come back into the side in recent months after long self-imposed absences.

COACH

Kwesi Appiah described himself as the "underdog in the process" when Ghana were searching for a new coach following the departure of Goran Stevanovic after the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, but was handed the job after talks with former France international Marcel Desailly broke down.

Appiah is a student of the game, having recently studied coaching methods at Manchester City and Liverpool to get a better understanding of global trends.

A former international left-back, Appiah served as assistant coach to the national team between 2007 and 2012, and so his elevation to the top job was in many ways one of continuity for the team.

His position is often said to be under threat by those who feel Ghana would be better served by a coach from outside the country's borders, but he now has a chance to prove them wrong.

FORM

A pair of 1-0 defeats to Montenegro and Netherlands in their last two internationals means Ghana's build-up has been less than convincing, but they can take solace in the fact that they do have more in the tank.

They were unlucky not to get something from the Netherlands game played last weekend, and have just one more friendly remaining against South Korea this coming Tuesday to get things right.

They will rather want to think back to the manner in which they demolished Egypt in the first leg of their playoff last October as evidence of their potency.

KEY WEAPON

Sulley Muntari is a veteran of three World Cups now and one of the more experienced players in the Black Stars squad after a distinguished career in Europe.

He has often fallen out with past coaches of the team, but unlike them has remained a constant and his powerful displays in midfield, and keen eye for goal, make him a potential match-winner.

His leadership among the group is another key asset, while he also has a tendency to rise to the big occasion, reveling in the limelight.

GROUP G OPPONENTS

June 16 vs United States (Natal) - On paper the easiest of the three group games for Ghana, but certainly a difficult match in its own right. The Black Stars can look to history for inspiration though - they knocked the USA out of the last two World Cup finals in 2006 and 2010.

June 21 vs Germany (Fortaleza) - This is also a repeat of a fixture played at the 2010 finals in the pool phase, when Germany were 1-0 winners at Soccer City. It will be another immense challenge for the Black Stars against one of the pre-tournament favourites.

June 26 vs Portugal (Brasilia) - There is every possibility that Ghana will go into their final pool match needing a win and for that reason will hope that the injury woes currently dogging Cristiano Ronaldo keep him laid low. Portugal have other talented players, but Ronaldo takes them to another level.

If Ghana make it out of this incredibly difficult pool they will face one of the top two sides in Group H, where they might think things get a little easier. That pool contains Belgium, Algeria, South Korea and Russia.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars), Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset).

Defenders: Harrison Afful (Esperance), John Boye (Stade Rennes), Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Jonathan Mensah (Evian Thonon Gaillard FC), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege), Rashid Sumaila (Mamelodi Sundowns).

Midfielders: Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Emmanuel Agyemang Badu (Udinese), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Christian Atsu (Vitesse Arnhem), Andre Ayew (Olympique Marseille), Michael Essien (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan).

Forwards: Jordan Ayew (Sochaux), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes).

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